Together with Africa
“The Earth is God’s, and all that is in it”
May 19, 2011
Extractive industries are among the most destructive to the environment and to local communities, yet poor countries around the world, including in sub-Saharan Africa, are granting exploration rights to mining companies, many of which are Canada-based, at breathtaking speed.
[Learn more at Publish What You Pay, a global network of civil society organizations that work for transparency in the extractive industries.]
Participants at an ecumenical conference on mining held in early May in Toronto issued the following statement (see list of conference cosponsors here):
Ecumenical Conference on Mining -- Final statement
Gathered under a banner bearing Psalm 24’s reminder - “The Earth is God’s, and all that is in it” - about 150 people from all parts of the Earth considered the impact of Canadian mining companies on their communities and offered some signs of what must be done differently.
Almost 50 of the participants came from Latin America, Asia and the Pacific and Africa. They met with Canadians and people from Europe and the United States who have a variety of roles in the face of resource extraction industries: allies who work in solidarity to change laws in Canada so that companies operating overseas might be better regulated; investors concerned about the ethical implications of holding mining stocks; and First Nations people from Indigenous territories within Canada who lack sufficient legal protection to defend their communities. These encounters offered rich learning across languages and cultures.
Through worship, theological reflection and the contributions from Indigenous spiritualities and from other faith traditions, we heard that churches and church leaders play a variety of roles. In some places, churches are mediators in situations of conflict; in other places, they provide solid accompaniment, advice and support to communities and social and ecological movements; and everywhere, religious leaders provide an ethical voice to these issues.
Those who came from beyond Canada’s shores encountered its resource-based economy. We met in Toronto, Canada, as this country is home to 75 percent of the world’s mining and mineral exploration companies, and Canadian stock exchanges raise 40 percent of all mineral exploration capital worldwide. Mining activities in the global South, as well as in Canada, raise critical ethical issues of social justice and respect for God’s Creation that are matters of concern for all people of faith the world over. Some speakers pointed to the role of Canadian companies that take advantage of, exacerbate or provoke conflict in contexts of weak democracies.
Many participants spoke of a crisis in the relationship between human beings and the environment. New commitment to peaceful struggle for social and ecological justice is required. Some Canadian speakers said most Canadians do not think about mining or its impacts, except to the extent that mining, together with oil and gas production, are a large part of the country’s economic strength. First Nations speakers said that their communities feel the pressure of market demand for gold and other precious metals, and that legal protection for land rights is still inadequate. Canadians were challenged to consider the impacts of mining in Canada, where the consequences may be less visible but are no less damaging to the Earth and to many First Nations communities, and in other countries that are much more densely populated.
The conference achieved some of its goals:
- The meeting allowed us to build alliances and solidarity between church leaders and social movements in diverse parts of the world;
- New, informal networks of mutual support will strengthen communities, people and workers who are affected by Canadian resource extraction activities;
- We developed our understanding of the place of resource extraction in the current economic and development models in which we participate;
- We have encouraged churches in many countries to put mining issues front and centre on their agendas, including education opportunities and investment practices.
- We recognize the need to work at multiple levels: local, national and international, using a variety of strategies and spaces (such as the UN, the OECD, etc). Specifically, we have identified areas of focus for future actions related to public policy:
- Education: Very often, communities do not see mining as a threat until they start to see its impacts; in other cases, they have seen the impacts elsewhere and leaders work to help the people understand potential impacts. Education in this context is about acquiring knowledge and building capacity in order to effectively engage governments, mining companies and the public. In wealthier countries, education is more often about moving people of faith to act in solidarity and for justice.
- Legislative action: We heard stories of mixed success, from efforts in Central America to ban open-pit metals mining to the Canadian effort to regulate the overseas activities of mining companies (Bill C-300). There were calls to continue efforts for legislation to strengthen policy frameworks. The participants called on the churches to put pressure on the Canadian government as well as the governments of host countries, to exercise transparency (publicizing information) and accountability regarding resource extraction activities.
- Legal actions: We also heard about legal challenges brought by communities in local and Canadian courts against Canadian mining companies. A mixed record of successes and failures points to the need to continue to bring cases both in host countries and in Canada, to educate jurists, and to look anew at Canadian and international legal frameworks.
- Theology: We see the need to deepen our theological understanding of resource extraction, and to move away from concepts of dominion and ownership-and beyond stewardship-to a sense of being part of God’s Creation, understanding that it is our common responsibility to care for Creation.
- Solidarity and accompaniment: We must respond to the call for greater and more committed solidarity and accompaniment of communities directly affected by resource extraction.
- Investment: There is a need for greater understanding of churches as investors and their duty to use that kind of participation to influence companies towards ethical behaviour and respect for human rights and the Earth, including consideration of withdrawal of investments in instances when companies refuse to change.
- Role of the churches: As churches, we recognize our internal contradictions and complicity with respect to resource extraction, and the urgent need to practice responsible consumption and citizenship. Therefore as people of faith who are members of local church congregations, we need to further develop our theological understandings of the issue, address our individual and collective lifestyles, develop an alternative economic model, and challenge the political and economic powers that drive the resource extraction industry. This conference may be a step toward a clear church expression of the need for change.
At the conclusion of this gathering, the participants commit to continue the process of reflection and action on resource extraction, and also call upon the Canadian churches, as well as churches globally, to take responsibility in speaking out more publicly on the issues and concerns raised during the gathering.
The conference was co-sponsored by:
Anglican Church of Canada
Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace
Canadian Churches Forum for Global Ministries
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
Canadian Religious Conference
Christian Reformed Church in North America
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada
KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiative
Mennonite Central Committee Canada
Norwegian Church Aid
Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund
Presbyterian Church in Canada
Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
United Church of Canada